Desert Companion

We Trippin'

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Photo of kids ziplining
Mike Saemisch

Zipline at Brian Head Ski Resort

Hit the road to these three destinations with your SO, kids, grandma, and whoever else loves a good weekend adventure!


SEDONA,ARIZONA

Last year, when the kids were in distance learning, some friends and I had the brilliant idea: “Wouldn’t it be great if they were doing their class, but in a prettier setting than the houses they’ve been stuck in for months?” So, we took our little bubble to Sedona for 10 days, and it was an absolute blast. The kids did their classes in the morning and ventured out in the afternoon. I could write for days about the activities available for families, but if you only have a weekend, here are three must-dos. 

Tube the Verde River

Sedona Adventure Tubing Madness at Alcantara Vineyard is our favorite pre-Sedona adventure. The crew shuttles everyone to the drop-off point, then you leisurely float down the river. The trip takes up to three hours, and it’s the perfect way to disconnect from screens and connect with your loved ones. Just a heads up, kids have to be at least 5 years old and 40 inches tall to participate. 

Pro tips:

  • Bring a floating cooler. You can rent one from Sedona Adventure Tubing Madness or purchase your own. The tubes are roomy, but keeping drinks and snacks dry in their own space is a plus.
  • Speaking of snacks … Don’t be me and think grocery store sushi is a fantastic river snack. Kids got it all over the tube, two people got stomach aches — it wasn’t pretty.
  • Bring sunscreen. Also not pretty? Sunburn.
  • Be ready for waves of calm punctuated by bursts of adrenaline. The river has parts where the water is nearly still. Then, things will speed up and you hold on for the ride. The tubes have water shooters for entertainment during down time. A waterproof speaker is also a good idea. During one lull, we sang the entire Hamilton soundtrack. You’re welcome, other tubers!
  • Have a drink at Alcantara Vineyard. It’s family-friendly, and there’s often live music. Call me lucky, but my kid is perfectly happy snacking on a charcuterie board while we enjoy a glass of wine. 

Sedona Adventure Tours, sedonaadventuretours.com

Take a leap at Slide Rock State Park

Mother Nature’s ultimate water park is in Oak Creek Canyon. The area was developed into an apple orchard more than 100 years ago; you can still see some of the original cabins and equipment there today. There are multiple natural pools and “water slides” created in the rock formations. The biggest is 80 feet long. Daunting … but even nervous explorers like me can handle it.

Pro tips:

  • Arrive early. I’ve shown up more than an hour before the park officially opens, and there’s already a decent-sized line. Note: The park closes at capacity.
  • Bring water shoes. The rocks are very slippery. (Ask my husband, who has a permanent scar on his forehead after biffing it!)
  • Bring water, snacks, and lunches. A gift shop and restrooms are near the park’s entrance, but it’s a long walk back, so hit them when you see them!

Slide Rock State Park, azstateparks.com/slide-rock/

Have lunch at Rainbow Trout Farm

Rainbow Trout Farm is a fantastic two-for-one. You get an activity to entertain the kids and a family-friendly lunch spot. Everyone gets a pole, bait, net, and access to the trout pond. Once you’ve successfully caught a keeper, the staff will prepare it for you to grill, then give you seasonings and butter. Pick your barbecue, season your fish, grill for a few minutes on each side, and be prepared for an extremely fresh fish lunch!

Pro tips:

  • Be patient. I’ve caught a fish in five minutes here. But! I’ve also waited more than an hour, singing fish songs, bribing, googling fish catching tips. These fish are sneaky!
  • Have that “circle of life” talk in advance if your child is sensitive like mine. Kaden loved the thrill of catching a fish. He didn’t love that we were eating it and felt a little bad. His friends, on the other hand, loved eating something they caught themselves.
  • Again, snacks. If fish isn’t your thing, there’s food for purchase. I also brought a Lunchable for Kaden, because I never know which days his entire taste palate is going to change.
  • Sedona Rainbow Trout Farm,

sedonarainbowtroutfarm.com

Sedona honorable mentions

Cathedral Rock Hike, where Kaden thought he gained superpowers from the vortexes.

Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, with a great toy store, multiple crystal shops for your budding geologist, and one of my favorite Mexican Restaurants, El Rincon.

Jerome, a ghost town well worth the 40-mile drive out of Sedona because of its quirky shops, supernatural tours, and meal with a view at the Haunted Hamburger. 


BRIAN HEAD, UTAH (AND ENVIRONS)

Brian Head is a little more than three hours from Las Vegas, but feel free to take your time getting there with stops in Mesquite, St. George, and Cedar City.  Boasting “the greatest snow on Earth” and endless outdoor adventures, Brian Head and the surrounding areas are where we go for a cool escape in the summer and a wonderland in the winter. When we say, “Brian Head,” we mean a bunch of spots in and around the actual town. Here are a few of our favorite things to do:

Get outdoors at Brian Head Resort

It’s your all-in-one stop for adventure all year round. Snow sports enthusiasts will find skiing, snowboarding, and tubing, and during warmer months, there’s hiking, mountain biking, braving ziplines, and climbing walls. 

Pro tips:

  • Get a ski lift pass even if you aren’t in a sporting mood. The kids in our group (and frankly the adults) were too nervous to do some of the summer sports on our last trip. But we did enjoy the relaxing ride up the mountain on the ski lift. Bonus: There are few complaints when you hike downhill the whole way after your ride!
  • Take chains for your vehicle. Odd concept for us desert-dwellers, I know. 
  • Kick back with a burger and beer at Last Chair Grill and Brews. You might catch some live music, and it’s a fun, family-friendly option.

Brian Head Ski Resort, brianhead.com

Rent a pirate boat at Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake is 20 minutes away from Brian Head Resort. It’s a wonderful spot for camping, fishing, horseback riding, and boating. But if you want the memories, the screams of excitement from the kids, and the pics for the Gram, rent a pirate boat. Rocky Point Boat Dock has one that turns all the heads on the lake. My kid and his friends went absolutely bonkers playing pirates all day. (He still gushes about it two years later.)

Pro tips:

  • Get fishing licenses. They’re required for anyone over 12 years old. If you forget, as I often do, they’re pretty easy to get online.
  • Check the map. Panguitch Lake is not in the town of Panguitch, but about 30 minutes away. The first time we went there, I assumed it was the same thing, making for a grumpy morning.
  • Bring your pirate pup. They’re allowed on the boat, provided they’re leashed. 

Rocky Point Boat Dock, rockypointboatdock.com

Explore Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument is the perfect scenic stop for red rock suckers like my husband and me. There are multiple trails (little hikers might do best on Sunset Trail), stars to gaze at, and wildlife to see. Kaden geeked out learning about the ringtails, badgers, foxes, mountain lions, pikas, and black bears that live there.

Pro tips:

  • Bring binoculars or a telescope. This area is known for amazing nighttime views. Kaden is a huge fan of the Star Walk app that lets you hold your phone up to the sky, and quickly find out if that extra bright light is a star, planet, or satellite. It also maps out constellations. 
  • Arrive early. If you want to camp, you can try your luck at Point Supreme Campground, which is first come, first serve. It’s open mid-June to mid-September and accommodates both tents and RVs. Keep in mind, even in summer months, temperatures can drop to 30 degrees at night. 
  • Ski and snowshoe. This is your chance to try snow sports in a wilderness setting. For us desert dwellers who are intimidated by snowshoes, guided tours are offered. Also, this 90-minute activity is better suited for older kids and teens. 

Cedar Breaks National Monument, nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Brian Head and environs honorable mentions 

Brian Head Winter Sports School, where kids as young as 3 can learn to ski and snowboard from the pros. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Duck Creek Village is just 40 minutes away from Brian Head and well worth the drive. A quaint village, numerous outdoor activities, and plenty of camping and cabin options are available.

Off-road trail rides. There’s a number of trails to explore. Don’t have a truck or ATV? You can rent one at Brian Head Outdoor Adventures.

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BIG BEAR LAKE, CALIFORNIA

I fell in love with Big Bear Lake when I did some videography work for a children’s summer camp there. I spent a week swimming, horseback riding, rock climbing, and bobsledding. I had to share the good news of Big Bear with my loved ones, so on the drive home I called my husband and a few friends, and we booked an Airbnb for the following weekend! You need at least three days there because there’s so much to do.

Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain Recreation Area

Open year-round, this is your chance to race down the mountain in a bobsled, while taking in the incredible views of the lake. You can also ride go-carts, play mini-golf, and snow-tube or slide down a water slide depending on when you go. 

Pro tips:

  • Check out the minimum height requirements. Kids have to be at least 36 inches tall to ride with an adult for most of the attractions, and 42 inches to ride on their own.
  • Take the easy road. If roller coasters or heights make you queasy, you can still take the Alpine Slide. You can control the speed of your sled, so you can either race or meander down.
  • Did I mention snacks? You can’t bring your own food in, but there is a café on site with decently priced, kid-friendly options.

Big Bear Alpine Slide, alpineslidebigbear.com

Shop at The Village in Big Bear Lake

There’s a point in every trip where the kids turn into a Bernie Sanders meme: “I am once again asking to go souvenir shopping.” The Village doesn’t disappoint with multiple bear-themed shops to stroll through and craft vendors offering unique art. 

Pro tips:

  • Relax. There isn’t a bad time of the year to visit the Village. You’ll experience colorful blooms and cool walking temperatures in the spring and summer, red and orange foliage in the fall, and a snowy wonderland in winter. 
  • Stop at Santa Land. If you and the kids have the holiday spirit year-round, you’ll enjoy exploring the historical and pop culture exhibits about Saint Nick. 
  • Eat at Saucy Mama’s Pizzeria. My fellow mom-friends and I went for the name, stayed for the food. This place is popular, so put your name down at least an hour before you want to eat, then hit a bunch of shops while you’re waiting. 

Big Bear Village, bigbear.com/things-to-do/the-village/

Swim at Boulder Bay Park

We assumed there’d be beaches and places to swim all around Big Bear. So, instead of looking it up, we told the kids to yell if they saw people swimming as we drove around the lake. That’s how we ended up at Boulder Bay Park. It’s a great area to set up a picnic, set out in a kayak, fish, and of course, swim!

Pro tips:

  • Arrive early on weekends or holidays. Parking is tricky, and so is grabbing that perfect spot on the shore.
  • Like I said, snacks! There are public bathrooms but not a lot of food options in the immediate area, so plan ahead.
  • Bring or rent a kayak or canoe. This is one thing we wished we had, especially as the water got chillier later in the day. The kids were begging to go to the island, and it took all of our energy, will, and patience to get them there via inner tube! And of course, you’ll need life jackets too. 

Boulder Bay Park, 39080 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake, CA

Big Bear honorable mentions

The Bowling Barn, where you can brush up on your bowling skills and get a good bite to eat.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo, a sanctuary for wild animals that can’t be returned to the wild.

Ropes Course at Big Bear Snow Play, an attraction that’s open year-round, where the most daring members of your family can climb through 37 obstacles. (Note: Kids must be 42 inches tall to participate.)

Slide Rock courtesy of Arizona State Parks and Trails; fishing courtesy of Rainbow Trout Farm; Pirate Boat courtesy of Rocky Point Boat Dock; Boulder Bay Park by Shutterstock; family photos by Kirsten Kidman

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